Sibling Rivalry by experienced counselor Anita Broomberg

Anita Broomberg is a qualified counselor, with over 25 years of experience in dealing with parents and children, and in running parenting skills training groups, covering topics such as discipline, sibling rivalry, etc. She conducts a six-week parenting group at £20 per two-hour session.

Editor’s introduction
I first came across Anita through my dear friend, Nicki. Nicki was attending one of Anita’s courses on Sibling rivalry and was raving about it – how much insight it gave her into what was happening at home, and also all the practical tips and advice that she went away with every week. Nicki also found it was great sharing experiences with seven other mums struggling through many of the same issues. I’ve since met with Anita, and I was immediately struck by her wealth of experience and knowledge in this area, and I’m signed up on next course.  I  highly recommend the book “Siblings without Rivalry” for many useful insights into the issues of having two.

Is the image of a cuddly new baby, a contented mother and father, and an affectionate first-born child, just a fantasy? Is the reality more likely to be an exhausted mother, an often-resentful father, and a difficult and demanding first child?

Our picture of the perfect family unit is frequently shattered during the first few weeks of the new baby’s arrival. Every child wants to be its parent’s only child, and sibling rivalry is completely natural and normal. Imagine your husband arriving home with another woman and blandly announcing, “I love you, but I love her too, and we are now all going to live together.”

Most wives, if presented with this statement, would react quite violently. Why should the older child have a different response? IThishow most children do feel when Mom returns home with the new baby.

The older child’s reactions may vary from the regression, i.e., wanting to be a baby again, manifested by crawling, bed-wetting, insisting on sucking a pacifier or demanding breastfeeding even if they’ve long since been weaned. Of course, some elder children may, at first, be quite laid back, and the troubles only start when the new baby develops into more of a person. At this stage the older child’s reactions may range from the verbal: “Take the baby back!” to physical pinching, pushing or hitting.

Accepting the fact that sibling rivalry is natural and normal, the manner in which we deal with it makes all the difference.

Firstly, rid yourself of the myth that brothers and sisters need to love each other all the time.

Don’t think for a moment that your children are the only ones that fight.

Try to ignore the squabbling as much as you can. Much of the fighting is an unconscious strategy to gain parental attention, and if it is ignored, it loses much of its appeal.

If the aggression becomes too violent or potentially dangerous, acknowledge the older child’s feeling, but stop the violence. For example say to the elder child, “I know Jonny is bugging you, but no hitting”.

Try not to act as the judge and jury by asking “who started?” or “why did you do that?” Most sibling rows are irrational and inexplicable. Rather distract the children or take firm but gentle action by separating them.

Don’t make unfavorable comparisons: “Why can’t you be like Jonny? He is so good”, or “Look, he has eaten all his food!” This only exacerbates the rivalry.

Don’t try to be fair by treating the children equally. Rather treat them differently, according to their own strengths and weaknesses.

Use humor whenever you can: a light-hearted remark can defuse a potentially tense confrontation.

Try to give each child some of your time, alone. This is especially important in the case of the older child, and in the beginning. Otherwise, the elder child may feel deserted and unloved.

Lastly, be firm and loving. Children feel secure when they know the limits of their permitted behavior.

These are some of the techniques that can make the home more tranquil and the family more peaceful. The point is that the inevitable anxieties, tensions, and conflicts can be significantly ameliorated by a simple understanding of the dynamics at play in the family system.

Recommended reading:
Siblings without Rivalry” by Faber and Mazlish
Between Brothers and Sisters: A Celebration of Life’s Most Enduring Relationship.” by Faber and Mazlish
Loving Each One Best: A Caring and Practical Approach to Raising Siblings.” by Nancy Samalin and Catherine Whitney

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